Editor’s note: Tom Snyder is executive director of RIoT, a growing regionaly user community focused on Internet of Things technology and related development.

RALEIGH – The term Internet of Things is now 20 years old. While the term’s buzz may be starting to cool, the Data Economy that IoT drives is heating up. Depending on the source, estimates range from 20-27 billion connected devices are operating at the close of 2019. Data from these connected devices, and the analytics capability that can be applied to the data, is transforming every industry.

Tom Snyder. Photo by Sarah Glova.

Last year, RIoT held more than 90 events, workshops and educational seminars,  and met with hundreds of companies and entrepreneurs. With that finger on the pulse of technology, here is our view of the trends to watch for in 2020.

1 – New Networks Begin to Scale

5G has been the clear marketing buzz winner for advanced connectivity. But to date, the 5G that’s available is just an enhancement of existing 4G LTE—and not truly a game changer. In 2020 we will see significant progress by cellular operators in rolling out gigahertz spectrum capabilities in dense, urban centers. This spectrum delivers the true promise of 5G, accelerating data heavy applications like autonomous transit and virtual reality while significantly improving network capacity.

Less well known, low-power, wide-area networks like LoRa will continue to scale quickly, providing new options for widespread IoT sensor deployment both inside and outside urban hubs. Growth, initially driven by manufacturing and agricultural applications, will expand LoRa usage into smart city and enterprise applications.

2 – Advanced Mobility

Autonomous vehicles are here. No longer science fiction, self-driving car numbers will continue to grow. Already commonplace in California, driverless vehicles will become a regular sight on the road.

Beyond the road, investment and activity in advanced aerial applications will increase dramatically. The Triangle is arguably the national center of excellence for drones, exemplified by the growth of pioneering companies like PrecisionHawk, practitioners like WakeMed, and the recent $25M NSF investment in a drone research platform at NC State that the Wireless Research Center will be operating before year end.

The next area to watch is for advances in VTOL (vertical take-off and landing), a key component for aerial taxis and the next big area of science fiction that will quickly become science fact. Expect VTOL to be a recognized acronym by year end.

3 – Electrification

The impacts of climate change were more significant and severe in 2019 than any year prior, and government is recognizing that change is required. Since last June, more than a dozen cities have banned new construction that uses natural gas. Not just good for the environment, when coupled with the extremely low cost of solar, building electrification has become smart business.

Expect this to become a trend, not only in reducing fossil fuel dependency, but in carbon neutral development overall. Buildings are the top carbon emitter in cities, but fleet electrification is also a big trend. Local companies like MicroGrid Labs are making huge progress in helping plan infrastructure to prepare for an all-electric-vehicle future.

4 – Rise of the Data Police

Data privacy has always been a hot topic of discussion, but largely one that big technology companies prioritized below profitability. Providing access to personal data proved too valuable to advertisers across search, e-commerce and social networks.

GDPR was a big step in a regulatory shift towards protecting privacy. Similarly, by the end of 2019 it was nearly impossible to surf a new website without new disclaimers about cookie usage front and center. Consumer and regulatory pressure alike are shifting corporate behavior to better advise consumers on how their data is used. But we are still a year or two away from significant change in how the tech giants actually use our data.

5 – Distributed Cloud

Edge sensors, and more importantly the need for automated decision-making in real time, is fundamentally changing cloud computing. In the past, where data was processed was not important. Moving forward, latency will prohibit arbitrarily located server farms, and we will see a rise of edge clouds and distributed servers.

Further, the historic consumption-based pricing model of cloud services will break down, moving to a pay-per-outcome model as the sheer volume of computing necessary to handle the 500-700 trillion gigabytes of data that will be produced in 2020 becomes burdensome to the current market paradigm. This in turn will drive further optimization of AI algorithms towards efficiency.

(C) RIoT